Kyrie Irving Credit: Bill Moore photo

The Brooklyn Nets will play their 41st game of the season tonight when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Barclays Center. They are at the halfway mark of the NBA’s 82-game regular season schedule and have a little over one month before they begin the All-Star break on Feb. 18.

Even as the Nets, who were 25-14 when they faced the Chicago Bulls last night (Wednesday), stay near the top of the Eastern Conference, it hasn’t been a smooth path as they try to figure out the most effective lineups while managing COVID-19 protocols and injuries.

The Nets were second in the Eastern Conference when NBA games tipped off on Tuesday, two games behind the Bulls, who were 26-11 before playing against the Detroit Pistons. But Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash’s crew was just a half game ahead of the 25-15 third place Miami Heat and one game above the fourth place Milwaukee Bucks, who were 26-17.

Heading into Tuesday’s slate of games, the Bulls had gone 9-1, the Heat 7-3 and the Bucks 6-4 over their previous ten. The Nets were just 4-6, having lost four at home. With Kyrie Irving rejoining the Nets on Jan. 5 in a 129-121 win versus the Indiana Pacers, and able to play in games with the exclusion of those held in New York City, San Francisco and Toronto due to COVID-19 restrictions, the team has added one of the league’s most potent offensive weapons.

He dropped 22 points with four assists against the Pacers and had the exact same numbers in a 114-108 road defeat to the Portland Trailblazers on Monday. “I’ve had a lot of debuts, but nothing comes close to this one,” said an elated Irving after his first game of this season.

Scheduling has also been a factor in the Nets’ performances. They played a noon game on Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs, a 121-119 overtime win, then had a quick departure to Portland for a make-up game on Monday against the

Trailblazers. The game was originally scheduled for Dec. 23 but was postponed due to COVID.

Tonight will be the Nets’ fourth game in five days. Saturday they will face the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday in Brooklyn before beginning a week-long, four-game road trip on Monday against the rising Cleveland Cavaliers.

“I think it’s really important for us to take it day-by-day right now,” noted Nash after Monday night’s loss, one the Nets played without James Harden, who was resting a hyperextended knee. “I know that’s a cliche, but I think that is the smartest way to approach this.”

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